The Phillies introduced the new face of their franchise, $330MM outfielder Bryce Harper, at a press conference Saturday in Clearwater, Fla. Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Scott Lauber and Matt Breen of Philly.com, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com and Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia were among the reporters on hand to cover the presser, which also featured agent Scott Boras and Phillies owner John Middleton.
After Middleton stated in November that the Phillies were expecting to spend “stupid” money in the offseason, it came as no surprise that they emerged with Harper on a record-setting contract. And Middleton referenced his famous November declaration on Saturday, asking, “Does this look like stupid money?”
The answer is no for the Phillies, who have already sold upward of 220,000 tickets since reeling in Harper, their former division rival who spent the first seven years of his career with the Nationals. However, Middleton stressed this signing isn’t about profit for the franchise. Rather, it’s about returning the Phillies to superpower status after seven years among the dregs of the league.
“I’ve made enough money in my life,” Middleton told Boras during negotiations. “I don’t need to make more. My franchise value has risen dramatically over the last 25 years. I don’t need it to rise more. I’m here to win. I think your guy can help me win, and that’s all I want to talk about.’”
Boras, as is his wont, was colorful in summing up the Middleton-led Phillies’ successful courtship of Harper.
“The maestro wanted to build a championship, and he wanted his harp,” the game’s most famous agent quipped. “The Philadelphia-Phil-Harp-monic symphony is built.’’
While the Phillies’ pursuit of Harper was a well-publicized, months-long dance, Middleton revealed the club didn’t begin negotiating a contract with Harper’s camp until Feb. 20, the day after the Padres signed Philly target Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300MM deal. Those talks began before Middleton and his wife, Leigh, ventured to Las Vegas to meet with Harper and his wife, Kayla, on Feb. 23. It was there that the Phillies closed in on securing the coveted Harper, a six-time All-Star and onetime NL MVP whose career is on a Hall of Fame course.
“Me and my wife walked away [thinking], ‘Wow, we’re blown away by these amazing people,’ ” Harper said. “They really understand where we’re coming from, understand the family aspect of our life, understand the city of Philly and what it’s all about.”
Now that his trip to free agency’s in the rearview and he has possibly found the team with which he’ll finish his career, Harper is focused on helping the Phillies to a championship – which has eluded him to this point.
“I want to be on Broad Street, on a frigging boat, bus, or whatever it is,’’ Harper said, “and hold a trophy over my head.”
In the estimation of Harper’s camp, the structure of the contract should help the player and team achieve their goal of winning titles during the two sides’ long marriage. Because it’s a 13-year deal, the average annual value is worth a reasonable $25MM-plus per season, which will aid the Phillies from a luxury tax standpoint. And Boras noted Harper didn’t want an opt-out clause in his contract because his desire is to remain in Philadelphia and recruit future free agents to the city.
Harper even brought up the game’s foremost player, New Jersey native and Philly sports fan Mike Trout, as a potential future teammate.
“I know there’s another guy in about two years that comes off the books. We’ll see what happens to him,” Harper said of the Angels’ all-world center fielder, who’s slated to reach free agency after 2020 and whose next contract figures to eclipse Harper’s. Trout, it seems, helped influence Harper to pick the Phillies, as the latter revealed he “talked to [Trout] a lot” throughout his four-month stay on the open market.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Trout will join his friend in Philly in the next couple years. For now, the Phillies are satisfied with their current roster, with the addition of Harper serving as an exclamation point to a productive few months. Having added Harper, catcher J.T. Realmuto, shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and reliever David Robertson since last season ended, Middleton regards the Phillies as the front-runners in what should be an ultra-competitive NL East – a division Harper believes is a “juggernaut.”
“I just want to win,” said Middleton, “and with Bryce, we are going to win.”